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Ten years of sanctions have failed to oust Saddam

Ten years of sanctions have failed to oust Saddam.
But they're killing Iraq 

'Sanctions and bombings are creating new generations
of young Iraqis who hate the

By Yasmin Alibhai-Brown 
The Independent 
31 July 2000 

 Ten years. Ten years is a long time. And it is ten,
slow, bleeding years this week since
the UN sanctions against Iraq were imposed following
the Gulf War. The First World
War lasted only four years; the Second, six. Yet these
historical events feel massively
more extended than they actually were because we are,
quite understandably, never
allowed to forget them. All I am comparing here is
time. When it comes to Iraq, time
has lost all meaning, vapourised into nothingness,
because there is barely any public
consciousness of what has been happening in that

The consequences of the draconian UN sanctions policy
are there for all to see if they
choose to look. The mortality rate for children under
five has risen from 48 per
thousand in 1990 to 125 per thousand in 1999. One in
four children is
under-nourished, a rise of 73 per cent since 1991. The
UN sanctions committee has
the right to veto anything from getting to Iraq. Today
you cannot get books, envelopes
or paints for children. The infrastructure has been
demolished. Iraqi doctors,
physiotherapists, lawyers, writers, have had to sell
almost everything they own to buy
basic necessities. 

One of the most powerful images of this is a picture
taken by photographer Karen
Robinson showing a line of loved dolls propped up
against a pavement waiting to be
sold by desperate families. In 1996, the American
journalist Lesley Stahl asked
Madeleine Albright if she was concerned that more
children appeared to have died in
Iraq than in Hiroshima. She replied: "I think this is
a very hard choice, but the price 
we think is worth it." 

Once in a while an ethical journalist writes an
impassioned article or a resourceful but
powerless anti-sanctions campaign group organises a
meeting for the converted. The
Muslim News, The New Internationalist and some
internet sources try their best to
agitate and educate but they have little effect on the
wider population, which remains
either ignorant or wilfully indifferent to what is
being done in our name to some of the
most highly accomplished, educated and cultured people
on earth. 

I say "Iraqis" and not "Saddam Hussein". The UN
sanctions are meant to tame Saddam
not to punish the Iraqi people, or so we are told with
nauseating regularity by the
powerful. Oh Yes? Call me stupid for asking such a
naive question, but how is it then
that Saddam is still in control and not looking an
inch thinner while according to
UNICEF, 5000 children are dying each month as a direct
result of the sanctions? Oh,
simple, answers the Foreign Office website: "Sanctions
are not responsible for the
suffering of the Iraqi people. Sanctions could have
been lifted within months of their
imposition if Iraq had chosen to comply with its
obligations rather than obstructing
weapons inspectors." 

The first thing to note here is the use of the word
"Iraq". Is it not grotesque that "Iraq" is
used as a synonym for Saddam, a ruthless dictator who
has systematically cowed and
throttled Iraq so that nobody else in that country has
a voice or even a whisper of their

The Foreign Office is right that the ruling regime in
Iraq is to blame for provoking the
responses and nobody I know would argue against
military sanctions. But do our
politicians really expect a power-crazy dictator who
uses terror and torture, to don a
white robe when the evening comes and go out handing
over to his people the food and
medicines which are allowed under the "Oil for Food"
UN humanitarian programme?
Or is their calculation based on the expectation that
driven mad, the most malnourished,
defeated and sick citizens of Iraq will one day storm
the doors of the many palaces and
bring us out Saddam's head on a stick? 

I lived under such a dictator once. Idi Amin, like
Saddam Hussein, was once thought a
good, dependable chap with whom the West could do
business. When he showed
himself to be the villain he always was, it was his
people who he turned on. If sanctions
had been imposed on Uganda in the early Seventies,
already-oppressed Ugandans
would have suffered even more and Amin would have
blamed the West for their woes. 

I met the tyrant in 1971 when I was twenty-one at an
event where student leaders
could meet the country's leaders. He was already
heating up under the pressures being
put on him by Israel, the US and the UK, who were
tired of giving him vast amounts of
aid money. He said that if all aid stopped, he didn't
care. People could starve, he said 
eat mud or each other (it is believed that he, in
fact, relished human flesh), before he
would go begging again. To expect tyrants to go all
humanitarian because the UN
demands it is insane. In South Africa, those opposing
the Apartheid regime were
prepared to suffer the sanctions for freedom. I have
never met a single Iraqi from the
opposition who agrees with the UN sanctions policies. 

There is evidence that misery is mounting in Iraq and
that more Westerners are
becoming vocal in challenging the UN policies. Besides
the dedicated and tenacious
work of individual journalists such as the New
Internationalist's Nikki Van der Gaag,
we now have the voices of two ex-UN Humanitarian
Co-Ordinators. The first, Denis
Halliday, left because he felt: "We are in the process
of destroying an entire nation... It
is illegal and immoral." His successor, Hans von
Sponeck, left this February for the
same reason. Politicians such as Alice Mahon and US
congressman David Bonior from
Michigan, are getting more and more critical, in part
because they know that these
sanctions and the unquestioned, continuing bombings of
Iraq are creating new
generations of young Iraqis who hate the West. Der
Gaag met a young child in Iraq
recently who had drawn a picture of a white soldier
shooting flowers. American and
English soldiers, she explained, hated flowers. 

We must wake up and this is the week for it. Protests
begin today and will continue all
week with meetings and "Die-Ins"  mock corpses which
will place themselves in key
localities around London. Similar peaceful
demonstrations are planned in Canada, the
USA, France, Southern Ireland and Italy. Most of us
may not feel comfortable with
anything that dramatic. But what is there to stop us
writing in to our MP and Downing

Iraq Resource Information Site

American Intifada

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